High School Musical 2: Extended Edition Review
School's out for the summer...and the kids of East High are working out what to do over the break. College is calling from a year away and everyone has scholarships and college fees to think about so the talk is all about summer jobs...where to get them and how to keep them. But first, there's time for fun, for basketball and for romance. The Wildcats shoot hoops for the last time that year, yearbooks are signed and Troy Bolton (Zac Efron) catches Gabriella Montez (Vanessa Hudgens) by her locker to present her with a necklace with his initial 'T' on it. But not so very far away, there's a different kind of wildcat, Sharpay Evens (Ashley Tisdale), who has plans of her own for the summer...get her revenge on Gabriella and bag Troy as her boyfriend. She's simply got to have the best!
The first part of her plan falls into place that afternoon. The manager of her exclusive summer retreat - Lava Springs - telephones Troy to offer him a summer job. But unknown to Sharpay, who really wanted Troy all to herself that summer, Troy has talked Lava Springs' manager, Thomas Fulton (Mark L Taylor) to giving everyone else a job. No sooner is Troy off the phone than Gabriella, Troy, Taylor (Monique Coleman), Chad (Corbin Bleu), Zeke (Chris Warren Jr), Kelsi (Olesya Rulin) and the rest of the gang arrive at Lava Springs to take up their jobs with three square meals a day and a whole lot of fun. A woman like Sharpay won't shy away from a fight, not when her claws are within reach of Troy Bolton, and so the summer is set for songs, sun and romance.
High School Musical 2 picks up exactly where High School Musical ended. Not literally, you understand, as there's a jump between the winter-to-spring setting of High School Musical to the summer of its sequel but it breaks through its titles with the same big song'n'dance that closed the first movie, one in which it appears that everyone in East High takes to the corridors, to the classrooms and to the stairwells to sing What Time Is It. Summer time! The East High Wildcats bounce basketballs, the cheerleaders dance off the walls and, though to a set of original tunes and not Alice Cooper's School's Out, the doors fly open and the kids of East High leave school, homework and Miss Darbus far behind them. And that brass band who are left parping and honking to no one in particular as everyone else disappears home for the summer.
The biggest film of 2007 for the six- to ten-year-old girls this year wasn't Transformers (obviously), Harry Potter And The Order Of The Phoenix or Bratz: The Movie. In fact, it wasn't a theatrical release at all, being this made-for-television movie that premiered on the Disney Channel in the US on 17 August and, in this country, on Friday 21 September. The only event to have been more hyped than the release of this film was the marriage of Charles and Diana as Disney didn't so much as pull out all the stops as leave them as nothing so much as dust as they gave over almost all of their airtime to promote High School Musical 2. The songs played on US Disney Radio months before the film's premiere. The weekly Road To High School Musical 2 began in June and lasted until August. It was then followed immediately by Sing-Along, Dance-Along and Pop-Up versions of the film through September, October and November. This country was little different with Disney Channel UK making the most of it before this DVD release and its terrestrial premieres on 27 December (RTE2) and 29 December (BBC). And that goes without mentioning the stage shows, the on-ice shows and the tie-in books. For a sizeable part of the population, 2007 has been the year of High School Musical 2.
The reasons for the success of High School Musical were a good-looking cast, some fine little pop tunes and a plot that even the most simple-minded of viewers could follow without the aid of a picture-book. There were, as so often happens, none of the complications that writing it for an older audience would bring. There were none of the missed periods or handjob-dance-moves of Grease, the suicide of Saturday Night Fever, the teenage pregnancies of Cry Baby nor the tight-ass southern-fried Christianity of Footloose. In fact, there is no sex at all, more a lot of very chaste relationships as though monitored by an offscreen Miss Darbus separating the boyfriends/girlfriends should they get too close. Instead, High School Musical was an old-fashioned musical - boy meets girl and they sing, dance and no nothing more than kiss on the road to love - that cribbed from others shamelessly but did so with no small amount of charm, humour and the kind of pop tunes that appealed to pre-teen girls so effortlessly that it seemed as though every showing of was giving away makeup.
I don't have any great liking for High School Musical 2 myself but as the father of a pair of pre-teen girls, they could do very much worse. It has a sweet little message of remaining true to your friends, presents a school in which none of the problems of everyday life exist and sorts absolutely everything out with a song, a dance and hanging out with friends. And like Bratz: The Movie, High School Musical 2 is painfully inclusive, being blind to colour, creed, race or anything else. Actually, it's good to see a character like Taylor, who's refreshingly healthy-looking and not at all stick-like, as one of the leads. High School Musical 2 won't offer very much to anyone looking for intellectual kicks but that's not the point of it. It's pop, dance and romance and is such fine family fare that it ought to come with a tin of Roses, slippers for everyone and a cushion for dad's head as he dozes off. Luckily, I have my own!
Well, after moaning about Disney's rather wayward choice of aspect ratios before, I can't really complain, in spite of hoping for a widescreen presentation, about this DVD being 4:3, which is how it has been presented on television to date. I have a suspicion, if nothing concrete, that it was produced in widescreen given that a HD version of it exists and has been shown in the US but Disney have chosen fullscreen for this release. There's nothing obviously missing. Being a direct-to-television feature, the action is framed for a 4:3 presentation with very little happening to the left or right of the picture. Look at the shot of Troy and Gabriella above or the dance scene in the cafeteria for an example with each shot being tightly framed for fullscreen. The problem with the DVD is that it's not a great presentation. There's a fair amount of mosquito noise from the encoding in the picture, which is less of a problem in the foreground action than the background but is always present. To be fair, this is more of an issue on a bigger screen while this will be on repeat play on bedroom portables than the big screen in the living room.
Where High School Musical 2 scores well, though, is in its DD5.1 audio track, which is clean, powerful and a good track to show off the pop tunes that are never more than seven or eight minutes away. Songs like What Time is It?, Work This Out, You Are The Music In Me and All For One, as the ones that the cast properly belt out, sound good, making obvious use of the subwoofer to give the score a nice, chunky pop tone. In spite of this being a DD5.1 track, there's very little happening in the rear channels but like the tightly-framed fullscreen picture, I didn't expect there to be, leaving this very decent but never surprising. Finally, there are English subtitles, both for the entire film and for the songs on their own.
Things get off to a bad start with a set of Bloopers (4m11s) but get better with Music And More, which includes three Music Videos - All For One (Spain), You Are The Music In Me (The Netherlands) and I Don't Dance (Portugal) - as well as an Introduction By Director Kenny Ortega in which he talks about how the show has become a World Wide Phenomenon (38s). The Humuhumunukunukuapua'a Exclusive Scene (5m00s) is also included here but unlike the original showing of the film on television, is present in the Extended Edition of this film. Finally, in this section, there is the option to sing-along with the film that comes with onscreen lyrics.
The main bonus material on the disc is what the DVD calls Rehearsal Cam (35m55s), which allows the viewer to look at the behind-the-scenes rehearsals for nine of the songs in the film, both on-set and in dance studios. Kenny Ortega also provides an introduction to this, explaining how there's an option to bounce in and out of the movie, first watching the rehearsal and then the in-movie finished dance scene before ping-ponging back to the next behind-the-scenes. Finally, there are a couple of what Disney calls Sneak Peeks, Phineas And Ferb (with Ashley Tisdale) and Hannah Montana.
If you are the father or mother of children of the right age for High School Musical 2 - six- to ten-year-old girls or thereabouts - then rest assured, this won't disappoint them. It didn't rock (or pop) my world but my almost-eight-year-old daughter already sings along with the album, swoons over Zac Efron and will doubtless for fighting for this over Dr Who on Christmas evening. She might be disappointed that day but won't be on many others. Maybe not quite as good as High School Musical but, then again, I've watched that more than a dozen times over the last year. Give me another year of this and I might be saying the same come the release of High School Musical 3 this time next year. And there will, as sure as night follows day, be one.